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Chapter 34: Overclubbableness

The word clubbable has come slowly into the dictionaries, though it originated with the prince of lexicographers, Dr. Samuel Johnson. Surely a word will soon be necessary to represent the higher degrees of clubbableness, so rapid is the growth, for both sexes, of this joint form of existence or action. Chinese and Japanese have their secret societies, and a net-work of these formed itself during the later Middle Ages in Europe; but never yet, and nowhere, probably, have quiet and respectable citizens plunged themselves so deeply into such organizations as here and now. Your neighbor unhappily dies some day. You had supposed him a placid and domestic man, known only to his own family and his fellow-clerks; but his obituary in the newspaper suddenly blossoms with mysterious initial letters and numbers, and his doors, on the day of the [225] funeral, are thronged with delegations; he was, it seems, a Knight Templar, and a member of some Royal Arch Chapter; he had taken the thirty-third degree of something; he belonged to Amity Lodge, I. O. O. F., and to the Mayflower Council of the Home Circle. Meanwhile there is printed on a parallel column the notice of some other recent death, and it is apologetically stated that the man “belonged to no organization, but was much respected for his qualities as a business man and a citizen.” There is great expressiveness in that “but.” It requires some explanation, it seems, if a man has ventured to die without an initiation, solemn or otherwise, into some secret order. Yet it is but charity to recognize that he may, after all, have lived a decent life.

The remarkable thing is that these innumerable societies, most of which began with some temporary separation of their members from their homes, have gradually been conquered, to a certain extent, by the home influence; and almost all have now some small “annex” for women also. I met many years ago, in Fayal, a middle-aged English woman who had lived for fifteen years on board ship with her husband, her sons being already launched as sailors. Her husband was a high official in the [226] Masonic fraternity, and she had, through some accident, become possessed, in a foreign port, of some secrets of that order. To settle the matter then and there, she was initiated and pledged to secrecy, so that no further trouble should come. Her discovery was the more remarkable, as she was very deaf; and her initiation more so, as she was by no means dumb; but her husband confirmed the story, and said that she was the only woman in the world thus honored. I cannot vouch for the tale, but it is certain that most of these secret orders now provide some equivalent or parallel course for women. Wives can belong, equally with their husbands, to the Farmers' Grange; they can join the Home Circle, as is fitting; or the Knights and Ladies of Honor, or the Order of Protection, or of United Friends, or the P. F. Y. B. O., or the Golden Cross. Strange to say, they can enter the order of Pilgrim Fathers, of which, in the city where I live, one of them is actually sergeant-at-arms; but they cannot join the Order of Haymakers. Moreover, if the husband is a Mason, the wife can at least belong to the Order of the Eastern Star; if he is an Odd Fellow, she can be an Odd Lady; if he attains to the G. U. of 0. F., she can be a Daughter of Ruth, which is something; if [227] there is a Son of St. George in the family, there can also be a Daughter of St. George; if there is a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, there is a Woman's Relief Corps, consisting of those who do the duty of peaceful vivandieres for those worthy veterans.

I beg that I may not be understood as speaking with any disrespect of these various bodies, of which, it must be confessed, I know very little. It is probable that they do much good, first through the practice of charity, and again as an education in mutual courtesy and self-control. All that is to be feared from them, for men or women, is the possibility of excess. A dinner is a good thing, but half a dozen dinners a day would land a person in the hospital. A social club or a benefit club is an admirable thing, but a man or a woman cannot by any possibility belong to half a dozen without peril. More money will go into them than will ever come out of them, and the expenditure of time will be something tremendous. Women especially, to whom such things are new, will be more endangered than men, because they will be more conscientious and punctilious. On any “Social Register” you will see the name of a rich man with eight or ten clubs following after it; he perhaps frequents [228] one or two, and merely pays his dues to the rest and lets them go. There is an element of honest fidelity about women which is incompatible with this; if one of them belongs to any organization she takes it in earnest. Besides the secret orders, she very likely belongs to several “Patriotic orders,” to a “Helping hand” or a “Cheerful letter” association; she visits a sewing-school or a college settlement, and corresponds enormously with the agents of distant schools. She does not really wish to be a Mrs. Jellyby or to be like Mrs. S. Cora Grubb in Mrs. Wiggins's best story, but she feels-or her home and children feel — that she is slipping in that direction every day. When the collapse comes and nervous prostration sets in, who is responsible?

In dealing with the American temperament we must remember that we have to do with a laborious and nervous race, usually in an exhausting climate; that they are hurried on by what a poet called “the Whip of the Sky.” Even English women break down under the pressure of work not so hard as ours, for in spite of the immense amount accomplished by such women as Lady Henry Somerset and Mrs. Chant, we must remember that it was one of our countrywomen who, after living long [229] in England, expressed the opinion that what an English woman would describe as a busy day, an American woman would call an idle day. Especially in regard to domestic service, so perfectly are the wheels of household life oiled in older countries that all this department of care is reduced to a minimum. The comparative poverty of the masses makes English life easier than ours for the well-to-do. An American mother, going to England with young children, finds easily a nursery governess, refined and ladylike, who will rejoice to come and live with her, teaching the children, for £20 a year or about $2 a week, a relief she cannot obtain here for twice the money. But to live as Americans live, and do the work they have to perform for themselves, is a drain which makes “overclubbableness” simply one more disease for men or women, in a complication of dangerous symptoms.


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